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Harbor vs. harbour

There is no difference in meaning between harbor and harbour. Harbor is the preferred spelling in American English, and harbour is preferred in all other main varieties of English. Examples U.S. Deepening the Savannah harbor to accommodate larger ships is now the number one priority for officials in the coastal city. [GPB] State Senator Jack Hart is advocating for the city to dump its snow surplus into the harbor, saying that Boston streets have become a public safety concern. [Boston … [Read more...]

Labor vs. labour

There is no difference in meaning between labor and labour. Labor is the preferred spelling in American English, and labour is preferred throughout the rest of the English-speaking world. One exception: In Australia, the American spelling is used in reference to the Australian Labor Party. In all other contexts, Australians use labour. This idiosyncrasy results from the influence of the American labor movement on the founders of the Australian Labor Party. The British Labour Party has the … [Read more...]

That or who

Most writers use that and whichas the relative pronouns for inanimate objects, and who as the relative pronoun for humans. This widespread habit has led to the mistaken belief that using that in reference to humans is an error. In fact, while most editors prefer who for people, there is no rule saying we can't use that, and that has been widely used in reference to people for many centuries. It remains so today, especially in British writing, exemplified here: Labour insiders argue that Balls … [Read more...]

Predicate nominatives

A predicate nominative is a noun or pronoun that follows a linking verb and refers to the subject of the verb. Examples In these examples, the underlined words are predicate nominatives: They are the ones who play sparingly in the preseason ... [TampaBay.com] They are the men who fans pay to watch and that the TV cameras and journalists love to focus on. [Aljazeera] She is a former member of the U.S. Soccer Federation Under-15 Women's National Team ... [ESPN] He believes he is who … [Read more...]

Who vs. whom

In most contexts, the use of who in place of whom is not a serious error. Many English speakers do not routinely use whom in their informal communication, and the word can sound overformal to many listeners even where it is logically correct. Be aware, however, that some people are strict about the who/whom distinction, so if you are writing a school paper or a college application or are applying for a job, using the words in the manner considered proper is safest. When you're in doubt, … [Read more...]

Assure, ensure, insure

To assure is (1) to make sure something occurs, (2) to give confidence to or encourage, or (3) to make (someone) certain (of something). In its first sense at least, the word is synonymous with ensure, which primarily means to make sure something occurs or comes to be. Insure, meanwhile, usually means to purchase or provide financial protection against loss.  This is how the words are usually used in today's English, anyway. Each has borne many other definitions over the centuries, and they … [Read more...]

College vs. university

In American English, college and university are generally used interchangeably, but there are some subtle differences between them. University usually denotes a school that offers full undergraduate and graduate programs, while colleges usually offer more narrow programs and may have no graduate studies at all. But there are no official designations for these terms, and colleges and universities can call themselves what they want. In practical American usage, university has connotations of … [Read more...]

Abstruse vs. obtuse

Abstruse---usually used in reference to the content of a written, sung, or spoken text---means difficult to understand. Obtuse means (1) not pointed (in reference to an object) or (2) simpleminded or imperceptive (in reference to a person). So, if we go by these definitions, abstruse should never refer to a person or a physical object, and obtuse should never (or very rarely) refer to a text. The words are often mixed up---for example: Notoriously obtuse, he is refreshingly straightforward … [Read more...]

Hair’s breadth (hare’s breath)

A hair's breadth is a very short distance. Breadth in this phrase is synonymous with width, so the phrase literally refers to the width of a hair. Hare's breath and hair's breath are interesting images, but for the phrase denoting a short distance, they are misspellings. Examples On the following Tuesday the world's financial system came to within one hair's breadth of extinction.  [DeRosaWorld] Little by little, Mr. Calderón stretches the familiar into a scary, empty new world that is just … [Read more...]

Storey vs. story

For the noun referring to a horizontal level of a building, story is the standard spelling in American English, and storey is preferred in all the other main varieties of English. The plural of the American story is stories, and the plural of the storey is storeys. Of course, English speakers everywhere use story for an account of a series of events and related definitions. Examples U.S. The building will stand four stories tall along Franklin Street. [Chapel Hill News] An eight-story … [Read more...]

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